Swollen Lip: Causes (Including Allergic Reaction) & Treatment (Pictures)

The sudden onset of swollen lips can be frightening, especially if it is accompanied by swelling of the tongue and throat. The most urgent concern is how to get rid of the swelling. The next question is what happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

This swelling of the lips, called angioedema, usually occurs within a few minutes of eating the offending food and rarely more than two hours after. It is often accompanied by a tingling sensation or numbness. If swelling of the tongue or throat causes any difficulty breathing, seek immediate medical attention.

Common Swollen Lip Causes

The first time an allergic reaction makes your or your child’s lips swell, you’re bound to be alarmed, especially if the swelling is accompanied by swollen, red eyes or throat inflammation. Most people will head right to the doctor, and this is a good thing, as undergoing an allergy test can say definitively what has caused your allergy. After administering an anti-histamine, however, your doctor is likely to ask you to keep track of what you come into contact with regularly, to find a likely cause without forcing you to unnecessarily endure painful testing. Here are the most common seven ways a person might experience a swollen-lip reaction.

1) Inhaled natural allergens. Nature puts out an impressive array of pollens and spores every spring and summer, adding an encore of mold spores in the fall, when decay is prominent. Which season affects you depends on which tiny bits of potential plant life you’re allergic to. Seasonal allergies can crop up at any time in a person’s life. While it can be hard to pinpoint the specific allergen without a doctor’s test, pay attention to how close you come to freshly-cut grass before your lips swell, and see how a walk in a wooded park affects you, if you live near one. House dust might be the problem instead, so cover your nose and mouth while vacuuming and dusting to see if it helps. While it’s only partly natural, cigarette smoke can cause allergic reactions too.

2) Household chemicals. There are a few of products in our home that can cause allergic reactions, The products including dish soaps, air fresheners and candles all can result in this condition especially while adding scenting into them. What you’re putting into the air with a “vanilla breeze” freshener or “apple pie” candle is probably manufactured artificially, with no vanilla or apple included. Chemical scents can wreak havoc on any of the mucous membranes of your face, including your lips. To test if this may be a cause of your swelling, throw out or safely store all scented items, freshening the air instead with natural potpourri or expensive but genuine oil extracts. Changing your household cleaners to unscented brands should help too.

3) Food and drink. This is probably the most commonly guessed, and likely, allergy – after all, it involves direct contact between your mouth and the allergen, rather than the inhalation of tiny particles. Keep track of your diet, paying special attention to nuts (peanuts and tree nuts), milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish, as these foods account for 90% of all food reactions. If you think you’ve pinpointed a cause, let your doctor know.

Here are common foods that can produce an allergic reaction of swollen lips as below:

In Children:

  • ~ Cow’s milk
  • ~ Hen’s eggs
  • ~ Peanuts
  • ~ Tree nuts
  • ~ Soy beans
  • ~ Wheat

In Adults:

  • ~ Fish
  • ~ Shellfish, both mollusks and crustaceans
  • ~ Peanuts
  • ~ Tree nuts
  • ~ Fruits
  • ~ Vegetables

4) Latex. While touching latex to your plain, dry skin may not cause you trouble, touching it with your lips can trigger your latex allergy. Keep track of when and where latex comes into contact with your mouth, like at dentist’s appointments or when blowing up latex balloons. If the reaction is in a child, check her toys for latex parts, hide the rubber bands and erasers, and try to find out if there’s latex in your carpeting. If the reaction is in a baby, use non-latex baby bottle nipples.

5) Cosmetic items. A great many chemicals and dyes, as well as unexpected animal products, constitute makeup and other beauty products. Change you lipstick, your chap-stick, and your other makeup items. Try new facial cleansers and moisturizers. Stop using perfume, and avoid all perfumed cosmetics. Any cosmetic item that touches your hands may then come in contact with your lips if you aren’t careful, so be sure to wash your hands after application.

6) Insect bites and stings. Bees, spiders and hornets are the three potentially vicious bugs we’re most likely to encounter day-to-day. Once a bug’s venom is in your system, it can cause lip swelling. Check yourself, or your child, closely all over for potential bites and stings. While bee and hornet stings make themselves known immediately, giving you an easy way to pinpoint the allergy, spider bites may not. Also, check your pets for fleas and your bed for bed bugs, as these annoying critters can cause allergic reactions sometimes too.

7) Drugs. Upon being informed of your allergic reaction, your doctor is likely to consider your prescriptions and change any new prescriptions to ones that won’t give you an allergic reaction if he can. Over-the-counter drugs can cause allergies too, so pay attention to what painkillers, cough syrups, and other medicines you use. Remember that even if you’ve been using an item for a while without problems, an allergy to it can pop up without warning.

8) OAS. Another potential cause of lip swelling is known as Oral Allergy Syndrome or OAS. This occurs in people who are allergic to pollens and is the result of a cross reaction between some pollens and foods. The most common is birch pollen, but OAS has also been seen with pollen allergies to ragweed, mugwort sage, plantain, grasses, and many fruits and nuts.

A person who is allergic to birch pollen may experience a reaction with exposure to apple, cherry, pear, plum, prune, nectarine, honey, wheat, potato, beans, parsley, peas, and many others. The list of potential problem foods is quite long. An allergy to plantains may result in a cross reaction to melon. For more information on the cross reactions, here is a detailed table below.

Allergy: May be Associated with a reaction to:
Birch Apple, carrot, cherry, pear, peach, plum, prune, nectarine, apricot, kiwi fruit, honey, potato, tomato, spinach, celery, parsnips, green pepper, lentils, peas, beans, peanut, parsley, anise, dill, fennel, caraway, coriander, cumin, wheat, buckwheat, hazelnut, walnut, almond
Mugwort Sage Celery, carrot, spices, melon, watermelon, apple, chamomile, hazelnut, anise, fennel, coriander, cumin.
Grass Potato, melon, tomato, watermelon, orange, cherry, peanut, kiwi
Ragweed Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, chamomile, honey, banana, sunflower seeds, zucchini, cucumber
Latex Avocado, potato, banana, tomato, chestnut, kiwi fruit, herbs, carrot
Peanuts Legumes, grass, wheat, corn
Plantain Melon

People who experience OAS find it is most often due to raw foods. Foods that are well-cooked do not cause significant reactions. The exception to this is nuts. Any reaction to nuts is cause to avoid nuts at all times.

Swollen lips have caused all kinds of problems for people from embarrassment to time off work. The only way to know for sure what is causing the swelling is to see a physician, an allergist if possible, for testing to determine the exact nature of your problem. Allergies can be severe and potentially life-threatening, so the best course for a recurring problem with swollen lips is to see your physician.

Pictures of Swollen Lip

How to Get Rid of a Swollen Lip

Antihistamines are helpful in reducing the symptoms of swollen lips quickly, though the swelling will subside on its own with time. Loratidine is less sedative than chlorpheniramine. Hydroxizine HCL (Atarax) is especially helpful for angioedema. The medication should be taken at the first sign of tingling around the mouth.

Your doctor will also probably recommend an oral antihistamine like Benadryl to relieve your symptoms, but if you want to pinpoint your allergy, don’t take it regularly at first. If the allergic reaction was particularly severe, you may be presented with an epi-pen, a shot which, when pressed into a fleshy area of the body like the thigh, releases a more intense and fast-acting anti-histamine to clear up a dangerous reaction quickly.